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Study Finds 'Firewise' Homes Don't Reduce Wildfire Costs

Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock
U.S. Air Force

The federal government is already predicting this fire season will push firefighting resources almost $500 million over budget.

The cost of fighting wildfires has been steadily rising over the last two decades. And now, a new study finds a prevention tactic for fireproofing homes isn’t helping to bring those costs down.

The study is by the Bozeman, Montana, based think tank Headwaters Economics. Researchers looked at what are known as “firewise” communities. Rural homeowners are encouraged to do things like clear brush around their homes and replace wood shingles with a metal roof. The idea is that keeps fire at bay and firefighters out of danger. Some policy makers hoped it would keep firefighting costs down as well.

Turns out, it may not do that last one.

Ray Rasker, one of the report's authors, says when a fire threatens a community, fire managers are going to fight the fire whether the community is firewise or not.

“They deploy the resources, whether it’s airplanes to do drops or helicopters or firefighters on the ground.”

Rasker says his findings suggest it would be more cost effective to limit development in highly fire-prone areas in the first place.

The federal government is projecting firefighting costs to reach $1.8 billion this year, based on drought conditions in the West -- particularly in California.